James North Art Crawl: September

As much as I’m still reluctantly dragging my way back into a dual artist-writer mindset after a steady month of studio focus, it proved hard to ignore the onset of yet another Art Crawl when I was able to see its imminence growing from my perch behind the drafting table facing my second-floor window overlooking of James Street North. I usually rely on the view from my window to provide a bit of relaxation for my eyeballs; on Friday, each upward glance only served to remind me that I’d be switching to critic mode much sooner than I’d like.

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For first impressions, I could have done a lot worse than Dave Hind‘s reclaimed aluminum works on the facade of Leon Furs. I’ve been admiring this particular old storefront ever since I moved into my current studio, and Hind’s intricate compositions are well suited to the backdrop provided by the aging iron gate, which completes a cycle implied in Hind’s work whereby industrial materials are inventively transformed while paying homage to their gritty origins.

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Kenneth Raddatz at James Buttrum & Son, August 2010

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Kenneth Raddatz, Canvas Breast Mouth Vulva Anus Breast Mould, 2007/2010

Another personal favourite in the genre of derelict shop spaces is the slow evolution that has been ongoing at James Buttrum & Son, which has been host to a two-part exhibition of paintings by Kenneth Raddatz. The current conclusion to this project is stylistically different from its August iteration – the first image reveals the unstretched canvasses and unfinished walls – but the two suites of paintings remain related for their balance of finely painted details against large expanses of neutral space. In this present show, the subject matter is more tightly reined around libidinous details isolated in circles on raw canvas that glow against darkly purpled walls. Just as many of the circles linger over the exquisite rendering of predominantly female orifices, the extraction of the circles suggests in turn the body from which these images derive. It is too easy to picture that larger corpus apart from these paintings, riddled with the holes made by these many extractions.

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Khalm H’erbin

While the show is indulgently named after its own maker, Khalmbinations at Loose Canon provides a playground of audio-visual contents that resist any autobiographical reading (I hope). While Khalm H’erbin does appear by low-fi necessity in many of the short films being screened across the three monitors, the many masks he literally wears speaks to a more universal experience of hyperbolic drama and sensory overload in which film and sound are tightly entwined through a series of dark narratives that made me smile and chuckle far more than was probably entirely appropriate for scenes of domestic violence between people made of hot dogs.

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Gabriela Alonso (I think)

Hamilton Artist Inc. is acting as an outpost of Zonedearte, an Argentinian artist-run centre based in Quilmes outside of Buenos Aires. The gallery’s co-curators, Gabriela Alonso and Nelda Ramos, were both in attendance along with their particular brand of action-based performance. Some of the food-based abjection that proved so entertaining in Khalmbinations is given a somewhat more serious-minded slant from these artists for whom vegetarianism proves a struggle in a country renowned for beef export and consumption. The performances were not without humour – I arrived just in time to see Nelda Ramos (I think) holding up a tiny toy umbrella while an audience member was coaxed into pouring a bucket of water and heart-shaped balloons over her head – but there was also a quirky feminist text at play while a white-clad Gabriela Alonso (I think) decked herself and her audience out in inflated latex gloves resembling cow udders and proceeded to blow air bubbles into a litre’s worth of milk that continuously spilled from its glass and foamed across the gallery floor. The admittedly pretty visual achieved by all that bubbling white ran up hard against mine and Julia Kristeva’s aversion to the primal, skin-like quality of milk as a symbolic substance, which I suppose makes it a job well done.

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Camille Turner, A golden horseshoe of possibilities, 2010.

There was more performance art to be had at The Print Studio where Camille Turner was in attendance in her Miss Canadiana persona with attendant white limousine. As part of curator Sally Frater’s (Re)Visions, Turner is one of three artists presented whose works challenge perceptions of black normativity; after repeatedly being asked “where she was from,” Turner’s Miss Canadiana portraits assert her identity as both a Canadian and a native of Hamilton’s industrial landscape. While this performance does successfully reinforce the visibility of a black Canadian identity, the larger projects leaves the role of beauty queen remarkably unscathed – Turner is as tall, slim and stunning as any unironic pageant contestant.

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Sandra Brewster, Little boy 2, 2010.

Also included in (Re)Visions is Stephen Fukiyesi’s enlarged house of cards printed with African-influenced motifs and Sandra Brewster’s drawings of archetypal black youth superimposed over screenprinted motifs evocative of boyhood. Brewster’s handling of the charcoal drawing is especially inspired; beyond its literal analogue to blackness, the medium manages to achieve both the heavy-handed assertiveness of toughened masculinity and a vulnerable, ephemeral quality that renders these boys as ghosts against the trappings of a collective childhood.

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Kristian Nesbitt

In the Members Gallery, Kristian Nesbitt is exhibiting a series of monoprints in much the same format and style as the works seen earlier this year in his February show at Artword. One of the more rewarding consequences of following these Art Crawls is that it’s easier to recognize the relatively quick momentum away from his more derivative Pollock motifs towards something more self-assured. The scattershot squares that moved frenetically over the previous prints have grown to larger blocking motifs that provide more structure for Nesbitt’s playful inclinations. The work has matured without abandoning its vitality, and in some instances this prevailing freedom has opened out his palette to include more refreshing colour combinations.

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Paul Elia

Though I haven’t visited often this past year, I was drawn into Socold Studio Gallery in spite of the pervasive jazz flute to take in Paul Elia‘s Hamilton Strip series of digital prints. In addition to his exceptional though nowadays widely distributed images of Hamilton streetscapes – you can see some stonking huge ones at Stonewall’s Restaurant down York Boulevard – Elia has expanded his repertoire to include other cities in the Ontario rustbelt, some of which include the use of select, muted colours. At present I’m not seeing quite the same visual richness in these views of other cities – there’s a reduced range of values that makes these buildings appear flatter than their uncanny Hamilton counterparts – but I remain glad to see the series evolving in a larger direction.

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Heather Verplanke

Much like Socold, State of the Art is another one of those spaces that confounds me with its uneven array of exhibitions and this month’s presentation of works by Heather Verplanke is no exception to this pattern of unpredictability. On the one hand, I was drawn to this skeletal sculpture hanging in the darkened back kitchen for its macabre whimsy, but that crucial quality was less evident in the paintings displayed in the main space, many of which were too prettily and politely rendered to hit upon the dark edge achieved in this one particular moment.

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Bryce Kanbara

After two successful summer shows, You Me Gallery has dialled back with a quieter installation of gallery owner Bryce Kanbara’s wall-mounted drywall constructions. Though they are many in number and varied in their own way, something about the repetition of similarly-sized constructions left me cold. The rough edges of these easily recognized building materials suggest a destructive element, but each piece is too tightly compressed and contrived for chaos to be the concern at hand. These constraints do not resolve to anything but their own formalism, which in turn is lost to the sheer number of sculptures cancelling each other out through their own profusion.

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Jim Mullin, Excerpts from the Long Dark Night of Civilization’s History, No. 2, 2010.

By comparison, the James North Art Collective‘s gallery has been refreshingly opened up with a concise showing of four paintings by Jim Mullin and Paul Ropel Morski. The symmetry struck between the two artists is simple – both are large, gestural painters working predominantly on unstretched swathes of canvas, each presenting one monumental work balanced by a significantly smaller counterpart – and perhaps makes it too easy to directly compare Mullin and Morski rather than taking each one on their own terms. When separated out, however, there is substantial difference to be found between the towering gestural field of vertical stripes rendered in Morski’s larger composition (this is formalism that doesn’t suffer for lack of a focal point, it’s downright impossible to ignore) and the long code of references unfolding in the Mullin work across the way. The latter in particular suggests a subversive motive beneath the loose handling and decorative flourishes, some conspiracy whereby that moustachioed officer reverses all else around him.

Jim Mullin is also showing alongside Richard Mace at This Ain’t Hollywood, further north along the Crawl than what I was quite able to manage after a long day in the studio. I hope to correct that laziness later this month and take a moment to see that show as well as The New Workers Song Book at Workers Arts & Heritage, and encourage you to do the same.


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